By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) —  Employees at a manufacturing plant with a history of pollution problems will have to wait one more day to find out when they can go back to work.  A judge ordered Water Gremlin to stay closed for now.

The shutdown of the White Bear Township plant was set in motion one week after a WCCO investigation found employees unknowingly brought lead home from the facility. That resulted in lead poisoning in 12 children of former and current workers.

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What’s at stake is the jobs of 300 plus workers. The focus is on the health and safety of the kids with lead exposure from Water Gremlin. And, how to get the company to make changes to create a clean and safe working environment.

Workers with an uncertain future showed up at the Ramsey County courthouse.

“We work together, we stay together,” Water Gremlin employee Cindy Majeske said.

They stood at the back of the courtroom as Water Gremlin and the state argued whether the plant should be allowed to re-open and what it would take to make it safe.

“What we’re talking about is a cultural change for an entire organization from top to bottom,” attorney Pete Surdo argued for the state.

The state considers the manufacturing plant in White Bear Township a public health nuisance and called the lead poisoning in 12 kids a severe crisis, exposing a system failure. Water Gremlin had worked with Ramsey County Health since January to stop the problem without success. That’s why the state wants the plant shut down until fixes can be made.

“We can’t have lead filings continuing to migrate out of the facility and into the homes of families where children are being poisoned,” Surdo said.

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Water Gremlin argued changes can be made while operating and said keeping the plant closed would threaten its financial viability.

“Water Gremlin is committed to getting there so long as the facility isn’t shut down,” attorney Thaddeus Lightfoot said.

The judge extended the shutdown, giving the parties 24 hours to come up with a satisfactory clean action plan in order to move forward. Judge Leonardo Castro said he’s balancing the health and safety of kids and employees with the needs to keep workers employed.

“We have to move with speed to get this done,” Castro said.

Meanwhile, workers wait.

“We’re all wondering when’s the paycheck going to end. We all have families, we all have a home and it’s scary, we don’t know what to do so you just kind of go with the flow and hope for the best,” Majeske said.

WCCO will be at Friday’s court hearing. If the plan is approved, the company could restart reduced operations as soon as this weekend. That will be decided at the hearing.

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One thing that will happen: a third party will be involved to ensure any changes are being made effectively.

Jennifer Mayerle